Lift High the Cross: Anglo-Catholics and the Congress Movement

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Lift High the Cross: Anglo-Catholics and the Congress Movement. By John Gunstone. (Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2010. Pp. x, 371. GBP 20.)

In the period between the two world wars, Anglo-Catholicism in Britain reached the height of its influence. During this time possibly one-half the Anglican clergy adhered to some degree of Catholicism. In something of a golden era between 1920 and 1933, five major Catholic congresses and several regional ones were held. Here leading theologians and preachers addressed thousands of the faithful, exhorting them to spread the broad tenets of Catholic Christianity and explaining in a popular vein distinctly Catholic positions on controversial issues. "It is the aim of the Congress," said founder Marcus Atlay in 1920, "to put before the English-speaking world what English Catholics really hold with regard to such great questions as modern philosophy, modern criticism, the Roman Church, Non-Conformity, and social and industrial problems" (7).

John Gunstone, canon emeritus of Manchester Cathedral and a prolific writer, is old enough to have known some of the major congress leaders, having been confirmed in 1936 at age nine. His latest work not only covers institutional history, delving into the planning and direction of these gatherings, but also contains solid intellectual history, for he ably describes the debates between Anglo-Catholics and their opponents. The book can serve secular as well as church historians, for Gunstone devotes an entire chapter to Britain's political and economic plight in the two decades following World War I. He captures well such matters in inner city squalor, fear of communism, massive unemployment, the rise of women, and the breakup of families. In other ways, too, the work is richer than the title would indicate, as it covers such topics as the conversion of G K. Chesterton and Ronald Knox to Roman Catholicism, the curious economic theory known as "distributionism," such musical innovations as folk melodies and plainsong chants, and the use of drama by playwrights such as Dorothy Sayers and T S. …


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